How to Write Dialogue

You might have an interesting story with compelling characters, but find you stumble when it comes to writing dialogue. Writing out conversations between two or more people is a skill that needs to be practiced and refined. The ability to write captivating dialogue that enhances a story will separate the novice writer from professionals.

Writing Realistic Dialogue

One primary consideration when writing dialogue is how you make the conversation sound realistic. Think about how you talk to your friends -- you might say “umm,” use slang or speak with contractions such as “don’t” instead of “do not.” People also tend to be informal in dialogue, so instead of saying “We discussed,” a character might say “We chatted.” In real speech, some people tend to drop letters, so “you know” becomes “y’know.” These little details make your dialogue more natural. Read your dialogue out loud and revise if it doesn’t sound authentic.

Developing Characters and Plot

Dialogue’s main purpose is to develop characters and plot. It breaks up narrative by giving readers information through characters’ interactions. Dialogue should reveal relationships between characters based on how they speak to each other, and it can also show tension or propel the story forward. For example, if one character yells at another, or if you add a dialogue tag such as “she said angrily,” the reader immediately knows there is tension and a potential argument between these characters. Dialogue can also show an incident that hooks the reader’s interest or makes the reader wonder what will happen next, such as one character revealing a secret to another character.

Fleshing Out Dialogue

It can get boring to consistently end dialogue with tags such as “she said.” Write out a list of alternate dialogue tags that might give your reader more sense of what is actually going on. If a child “complains,” a man “argues” or a woman “sighs,” the reader gets a better description of how that character says his dialogue. Add some narrative around the dialogue to really paint the scene for the reader. For example, you could write, “He looked at the floor and popped bubble gum in his mouth before he answered her.” These descriptive details indicate how the characters act and feel, which adds depth to the words of their dialogue.

Discovering When to Use Dialogue

Since dialogue should ideally move the story forward,, you needn't use it for mundane or casual conversations, such as “Hey, how are you?” and “I’m fine.” While a patch of dialogue might start off this way, it should quickly escalate to show conflict between characters; if it doesn’t, consider using narrative to express that two characters greeted each other. If you write some dialogue, re-read it and ask yourself whether the story would be the same if you took out that dialogue. If the answer is yes, you should probably take out the dialogue or replace it with something more compelling that advances the plot.